James Clerk Maxwell

Physicist, Academic

1831 – 1879


Who was James Clerk Maxwell?

James Clerk Maxwell FRS FRSE was a Scottish mathematical physicist. His most prominent achievement was to formulate a set of equations that describe electricity, magnetism, and optics as manifestations of the same phenomenon, namely, the electromagnetic field. Maxwell's achievements concerning electromagnetism have been called the "second great unification in physics" after the first one realised by Isaac Newton.

With the publication of A Dynamical Theory of the Electromagnetic Field in 1865, Maxwell demonstrated that electric and magnetic fields travel through space as waves moving at the speed of light. Maxwell proposed that light is in fact undulations in the same medium that is the cause of electric and magnetic phenomena. The unification of light and electrical phenomena led to the prediction of the existence of radio waves.

Maxwell helped develop the Maxwell–Boltzmann distribution, a statistical means of describing aspects of the kinetic theory of gases. He is also known for presenting the first durable colour photograph in 1861 and for his foundational work on analysing the rigidity of rod-and-joint frameworks like those in many bridges.


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Jun 13, 1831
  • United Kingdom
  • University of Cambridge
  • Trinity College, Cambridge
  • University of Edinburgh
  • Peterhouse, Cambridge
  • Edinburgh Academy
Lived in
  • Edinburgh
Nov 5, 1879

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